The Metropolitan Forum Project Reviving Citizen Civic Engagement

Hahn, City Council pushing decentralization of services

Los Angeles Daily News

By Rick Orlov

Aug 31, 2002

Saturday, August 31, 2002 - Pressure from secession and rejection of boroughs have left Los Angeles city officials trying to convince San Fernando Valley residents that City Hall is changing and can provide the services demanded.

Mayor James Hahn and several City Council members are pushing a series of new programs and proposals intended to make city government more friendly to residents and more responsive.

"This is all about service, service, service,' said Councilman Tom LaBonge of two proposals he has advanced to decentralize the most basic government services and create new regional committees of the City Council to hold regular meetings in neighborhoods.

Julie Butcher, general manager of Service Employees International Union, Local 347, one of the largest city unions, said the city needs to emulate what the Los Angeles Police Department is doing with senior lead officers serving as liaisons to the community.

"We need to take the concept of SLOs and transfer that to the rest of the city,' Butcher said. "People want to know they have someone they can go to and get their problem resolved.'

Butcher, who opposes secession, said another problem is the city's failure to market what it does do well.

"We had someone call in and complain their garbage bin needed replacing, and they didn't know who to call,' Butcher said. "The telephone number was on the side of the can. The person made the call and got a new can the next week. But not many people make a habit of reading their trash bins.'

Hahn is hopeful a new 3-1-1 system - to replace the myriad of telephone numbers now operated by the city - scheduled to begin going into effect in mid-September will help with some of those problems.

"Right now, people just don't know who to call or where to call,' Hahn spokeswoman Julie Wong said. "With 3-1-1, that's the only number they will need to remember to call in with a problem.'

Once implemented, the line will let callers talk to operators who will have been trained in finding contacts for people, and the system will be able to track individual requests to make sure the work is completed, Wong said.

However, Richard Close, chairman of Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment - which led the battle to place secession before voters on Nov. 5 - questioned whether the new systems will make an impact.

"The basic problem now is that the city spends too much of its money on middle management and not enough in the community,' Close said. "They can rearrange their programs all they want, but that won't solve the basic problem of people not getting their problems resolved.'

Close said he remains skeptical of the city's promises to fix potholes within 24-48 hours, of trimming overgrown trees, and providing more police officers.

"The city of Los Angeles has too many people managing and not enough doing the actual work for them to be effective,' Close said.

LaBonge, however, argues his proposal to decentralize other city services will allow local managers to spot problems and deal with them before people make complaints.

City Council President Alex Padilla, who represents the Northeast Valley, said the proposals have merit but he wants to make sure they are coordinated.

"We have the 3-1-1 program coming out and that could be the key to improving city services,' Padilla said, adding it was the secession drive that provided much of the recent push for exploring how services are delivered.

"But, we also have a new leadership in the city that's pushing the envelope on the effectiveness of the city, the efficiency of the city and the responsiveness of the city.'

Also, he said, there are cases for decentralization of some services, while the overall department maintains central authority - such as the LAPD.

With 18 police stations in the city, the LAPD has the capability of modifying its activities based on local conditions. But, Padilla said, it also has the capability of calling on officers from throughout the city in an emergency.

The second LaBonge proposal is to create regional committees of City Council members who serve an area. It received initial approval last week.

For instance, he said he would like to see a panel that includes all five Valley council members as well as himself and Councilman Jack Weiss, who represent portions of the Valley, to be able to meet and discuss common concerns - from transportation to crime.

A committee of members from one region could hold regular meetings outside of City Hall with members of neighborhood councils and other community groups to bring together officials from the LAPD, planning, recreation and parks and other agencies to deal with local problems.

"When we talk about having more input from community leaders, this is one way we can accomplish that,' said Valley Councilwoman Wendy Greuel. "When we talk about neighborhood councils having an impact, this is a way we can do that.

"It's important just to have the dialogue,' Greuel said. "Sure, there might be some problems. There are always problems with something new. But it is something worth trying.'

Butcher said she sees the proposals as ways to modify and keep alive the concept of a boroughs form of government - a proposal the City Council decided not to submit to voters.

"I don't think boroughs are dead,' Butcher said. "I think it's just been delayed and what we are doing is a work in progress that could bring about a form of boroughs government.'

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